MPSE Wavelength

Winter 2023

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SH: Stroke of luck, man! When I first came out to California and got into the business, I worked with Bob Rutledge. He had worked on the original Star Wars that was supervised by Sam Shaw here in Los Angeles. A lot of people think, "Didn't Skywalker Sound do that?" They didn't have their complete sound studio set up for the first Star Wars, but much of the iconic sound design work was obviously being done up there by Ben Burtt and his crew. Bob was one of the sound editors on Star Wars on Sam's LA crew and he did some of the Foley, too. He was a great Foley artist. When they came up with Empire, by that time, Skywalker had their sound facility set up. Bob was disappointed that he wasn't going to get to work on Empire, but they had not built their Foley stage yet so they told Bob that they wanted him to be the lead Foley artist and take care of the Foley in Los Angeles. Working with Bob, by luck, I was one of the two Foley editors on the show, and I actually got to do a little bit of Foley work myself. I got to do Chewbacca's footsteps in a couple of scenes—lots of fun for being a newbie, I'd only been in the industry for a few years at that point. What an exciting start for me. I got to go on the dub stage over at the studio, at that time it was called the Goldwyn Studio, which turned into Warner Hollywood, and is now known as The Lot. We mixed The Empire Strikes Back on Stage D there, with Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, and Bill Varney. It was a great team and a fun experience. EM: You were also a sound editor on Back to the Future, one of the most beloved films of the 1980's. What did you work on in that film? SH: The esteemed supervising sound editor, Chuck Campbell, had a relationship with Bob Zemeckis, the director. When Universal decided to drastically advance the release date, it was clear that Chuck and his team wouldn't be able to get all the work done in time. Since Bob and his crew had helped Chuck in the past when they got too busy, it was an easy call to have Bob split the work on the film and share the supervising sound editor credit. That's how I got involved on the project, along with a couple other guys who worked at Bob's company, Blue Light Sound. Chuck asked Bob to take care of the DeLorean, the flux capacitor, the passage through the time barrier, and parts of the climatic clock tower scene at the end of the film. That's a lot of really juicy, fun sound stuff! First, I got to create the sounds of passing through the time barrier. I remember going through our library, all on 35mm mag, and listening to as many different electrical zapping, lightning, whooshes, booms, and cool woofy-poofy sounds as I could. You know, sonic razzmatazz. I just started playing with combinations of sounds until I felt that it sounded cool and fleshed out. The fun thing about working on film in retrospect was you couldn't hear all of your sounds together. You're not in the digital mode where you can be hearing all these different tracks together. You are cutting on mag film one track at a time, so you are forced to be able to imagine how certain sounds would play together. You had to make sure that all the different frequencies are represented for a full-bodied sound. One way that you could get an idea of how some of the tracks would sound together is to load up three to five sounds in your synchronizer with mag head readers and roll the tracks through to hear approximately what they sound like together. It wasn't even at perfect speed because you're rolling the tracks through the synchronizer with your hand to try to approximate film speed. After I finished the time barrier sounds, I helped Bob work on the DeLorean, which was really fun. You'd probably think, "Wow, did you go out and record a DeLorean?" Considering the engine is a replica of a six-cylinder Volvo, it wasn't a very interesting sounding vehicle. We ended up using the "Lil Mule," a beefed-up version of an '82 Ford Bronco II, and that was just the foundation of the engine sound. We topped a lot of it with different vari- speeded jet and turbine whines from the library, train-bys, and even some reverse whines from different cars. If you listen carefully, you just might hear a Landspeeder or TIE Fighter be in there as well. Since Bob had a few Star Wars sounds in his library, we thought we'd sneak a couple of them in. I also cut some thunder and other assorted sounds in the climatic clock tower scene. In general, those were my contributions. It's funny to go back and listen to Back to the Future, some of it sounds a little dated. At the time it was groundbreaking, it sounded awesome! I mean Chuck and Bob won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing that year. It was highly esteemed, but I watched it recently and was thinking, "Wow, that sounds like the'80s!" EM: You've worked on so many iconic projects over the course of your career. What project sticks out as the film that helped you grow the most as a sound editor? SH: Well, technically, and literally, the first film that I co-supervised with Doc and Marty talk time traveling in the DeLorean in Back to the Future. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

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